Interview by Lindsey Craun. Promo photo by Wylie Maercklein.
Four naked bodies graced the front page of The Austin Chronicle in recent weeks, arguably introducing the guys of The Bright Light Social Hour in their most accurate light. The Austin-based group turned heads Wednesday, Feb. 23 at The Parish in celebration of the tenth annual Austin Music compilation album, which features “Back and Forth,” from BLSH’s debut full-length. Curtis Roush, Jo Mirasole, Jack O’Brien and A.J. Vincent are taking over the Austin music scene with their blues-infused electronic dance music, and before their performance I talked with them up-close and personal. All were fully clothed, I’ll vouch.
How did you guys come together to form the band?
Jack: Curt and I met at Southwestern University up here in Georgetown and he was looking to start kind of an experimental art rock collective kinda, you know, it’s an interesting thing and I was all about it. So we started playing together with a couple different musicians and eventually we found Joe who was playing in a drum line in a nearby high school and then AJ is a friend of my brother’s. He’s our manager. He’s an awesome keyboardist and singer-songwriter. So it’s been about three years since the four of us have been together, about six years since Curt and I started the band originally. So it was a long process getting it together.
How’d you come up with the name?
Jack: We don’t have as good of a story as we should, you know? It was just like a combination of words and ideas, so we usually tell people that it was given to us by a gypsy woman when we were babies. So they’re like “Oh, that’s cool.” No more questions asked.
What was it like growing up surrounded by the Austin music scene? Who did you grow up watching locally and which venues did you frequent?
Curtis: When I was in high school, all I wanted to hear were like really awesome guitar players, so it was great to be able to drive in from Round Rock and go see like Eric Johnson, Monty Montgomery and stuff like that and just be like in awe of their guitar playing.
A.J.: It was a blessing to grow up here. I remember being little and going with my parents to any sort of place, like jazz on 6th Street was like an old New Orleans-like blues, Cajun thing. It was the shit. I remember being a little kid and eating a bunch of fried food and watching these New Orleans blues artists just being totally in awe. It’s like some of the fondest memories—being a little kid like “This is blues?” and you’re like 10, you know, and you don’t understand it.
Jo: I wish I did stuff like that. All I did was like go see hardcore bands at Emo’s with screaming music and tiny jeans. Like, “Oh, hey guys I have long hair. Oh you do too? Awesome. Let’s scream together.”
Jack: Yeah my dad was big into blues. He was a rock organist. When I was younger, he’d take me to Antone’s to get out of the house. I’d get my sneakers shined in the back. I saw Bonny Raitt there and, who else, Guy Forsyth… a lot of really good acts.
From where do you draw your musical influences? I find it interesting that you guys bring together elements of both blues and electronic indie dance music together.
Jack: I think it’s from all of us individually, you know. I think we all listen to different stuff but we all like a lot of ‘70s funk and classic and ‘70s hard rock. All of that are really interpretations of the blues, I think. And then a lot of modern electronic stuff we’ve all been into DJs and that kind of thing.
Jo: Yeah, a lot of house music, dub step, stuff like that. That’s my main jam. Ninety-five percent of what I listen to is dance music.
Jack: We’ve been wanting to make an album for a long time, but we just never had enough money. It wasn’t until we kinda had the current collection of songs, then we were just like, “We really need to just do it, this is the perfect line of music for an album.” We didn’t have the money so we ended up doing a donations campaign and raiding enough money to finally do it.
A.J.: The songs we have developed over a couple years. When playing live, we’d see which ones flow and which ones don’t. And then we’d been saving a bunch of money from all the shows and stuff and not paying ourselves but just collecting it. Then we added on the campaign once we knew this set of songs was what we needed to record. Once we really tailored the nine songs we knew would be recorded, everything came together.
Curt: It was very organic, too. We met Danny Reisch, the producer, and he came to the show. He had recorded with our good friends, The Frontier Brothers, and they said good things about him. So he came up to us at the show and said, “Look, I want to do a record with you guys. I’ve heard you don’t have much in cash but I want to make it work. I have the perfect vision for it.” So we really hit it off with him and he helped us work it out. He started coming to our practices all the time and, you know, it just happened very organically and it was a lot of fun too.
What’s the deal with Jack’s moustache? Was it intended to be this big deal, with the record campaign fund and all?
Jack: It started just because I was sort of wearing a moustache one day and then the guys were telling me, like “You can’t shave it. People are coming up to me all the time like, ‘Oh, you guys are from the band with the guy with the moustache!’”
Jo: We played the Friday of ACL and I was walking on Saturday of ACL with Jack and people would stop Jack and remember him. They wouldn’t remember me even though we’re in the same band.
Jack: In every article for ACL they would mention the moustache so they were like,” You can’t shave it, you can’t shave it!” So then we’re like, we need to raise this money and we need a creative way to do it so we thought, “We’ll have the moustache raise the money, or be in charge of it.” And now at this point it’s just become a part of me.
A.J.: There was an e-mail from our producer, Danny. He e-mailed Jack in “lolcats” speak.
Jack: He wrote an e-mail from his moustache to my moustache.
A.J.: It was fucking hilarious and I think within a month, after that we just had the idea to personify it. I really think that Danny’s e-mail kind of provoked that personification of facial hair.
How did it feel to be named ‘Best Indie Band’ at the 2010 Austin Music Awards? What was going through your mind?
A.J.: It was unreal
Jo: Yeah, it was a total surprise.
Jack: It was cool, it was a surprise. We were actually in the Austin ME studios doing an interview there and they showed us The Chronicle, we checked it out and were psyched to see that one and our names on the second and third on some other lists. We had no idea about any of it.
A.J.: We did a little push to get votes like “Hey, go vote for us,” but we didn’t think we would win anything. People actually moved on it and did it. It was just a very nice surprise for us.
Now you guys are on the Austin compilation album. Which song is on the CD and why was that one the song you submitted over all your other songs?
Jack: It’s “Back and Forth,” which has kind of been our leading song off the album. They asked us if they could use that particular song. It’s a fun, upbeat song, you know, it gets ya moving. I think that’s probably why they wanted it.
Curt: It’s a bit more concise than some of our other songs that can stretch out a little bit. That song is a little tighter and gets after what it’s all about.
How are you guys preparing for your shows at SXSW?
Curt: We’re preparing to be really busy, basically. We have a show or two every day. We’re just trying to get our schedule all put together and just get ready for a week of nonstop go-here-go-there, party, go-here-go-there, party.
A.J.: Every years it’s like, I’m gonna rest up before SXSW and have everything good. Then you party up to SXSW and you’re like “Oh shit! It’s SXSW!” Then it ends and you’re like, “What happened? I don’t remember anything.”
Curt: Like, I should have mono right now.
Jo: Why can’t I remember this entire week? It was so fun!
Jack: Also we’re releasing a live EP right before SXSW that we recorded at The Parish on New Years. We also have some live videos that we’ll be putting out. We’re just getting new material together and stuff for people because we’re expecting to hopefully get a couple of people who are in town to check us out and have some new, good stuff on us.
Why are you guys suddenly always naked in photos? Are you trying to frighten small children and conservatives?
Jo: We’re definitely trying to frighten conservatives, not small children though; we’re cool with them. And we’ve always been naked all the time. People just started finding out about it.
Curt: I think we just don’t mind being naked. So opportunities present themselves, and we take them.
Jack: We were born naked.
Jo: Yeah, we were born naked and we’re gonna be naked. I don’t know, it’s just fun. I think probably some of most people’s favorite periods in their lives have been spent naked, and it’s not too unreasonable to want to remember those times.
A.J.: For the Chronicle, the whole concept was like, we’ll have this thing where we’re sitting on the ledge by the river and there will be pretty shit in the background. And then our butts with the name on the background, and that was cool. Then we stood up and they took the front shot and it was like “Haha, that’s funny,” And then just boom! They pasted the shit out of it, like, “Give me that naked shot!”
Jo: Jack and I weren’t really expecting for that shot to be used in the article because we’re like barely covering our junk. You can find out just how much hair Jack and I have everywhere. Like oh my God, thousands of people know what my pubes look like.
A.J.: It’s a surreal feeling like whoa, I’m naked.
Curt: A bunch of ex-girlfriends around Austin like “I’ve seen that ass.”
Jo: Seriously, half of every girl I’ve ever dated sent me a message that day like,” Hey, haven’t seen that in a while!” It was a weird day.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2011 after SXSW?
Jack: We’ve got a big tour, planning a five-week tour in May. We’ll go Southeast, East Coast, and Midwest. And it looks like we’ll probably do a big show in Austin probably in mid June. We’ve been a little bit trying to pull out of the Austin market and focus on other markets, but we’ll be coming back and doing a big show here in June. Then just writing. We’re writing on our second record, so hopefully we can get into the studio by the end of the year and release that sometime in 2012.
Jo: So either the end of the world or the album comes out.
Watch The Bright Light Social Hour live at The Parish below:
Made in Austin is regular Red River Noise feature that showcases some of Austin’s best up-and-coming independent bands. Check back often to see what undiscovered talent we’ll interview next.